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The Abe government versus the Emperor on history issues

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SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES

Just after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered his statement on Aug. 14 to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, the Foreign Ministry deleted a “History Issues Q&A” section on its website, which was based on Prime Ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi’s statements on the 50th and 60th anniversary of the war’s end, respectively, and then reinstated the section but with altered content on the evening of Sept. 18, just before the Abe administration steamrolled its controversial security legislation, which included the collective self-defense doctrine, through the Upper House.

A look at the new version of the Q&A makes it clear that the statement delivered by Abe, which played down his revisionist position on war-related historical issues, was intended to facilitate the passage of the security bills. By omitting references to Japan’s colonial rule and aggression in the past, the statement hides Abe’s true color — his reluctance to admit the fact that Japan committed any transgressions.

With regard to the question of “How does the government of Japan recognize the history concerning the previous war?” the version that was deleted from the website clearly referred to certain passages in the Murayama statement, such as “In the past, Japan, through colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly in Asia,” and “I … express … my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. …”

In the new version, the answer to this same question, which I understand is now in the process of being translated into English, refers in Japanese to the Murayama and Koizumi statements, but characteristically its reference to the statement issued by Abe does not include his name. It only says, “On Aug. 14, 2015, the Cabinet adopted the statement by the prime minister 70 years after the war.” It then provides links to the three statements.

The deleted version carried a straightforward message of deep remorse and heartfelt apology about Japan’s colonial rule and aggression, which were included in the Murayama and Koizumi statements.

But the new content instead employs a roundabout way to explain Abe’s position. Replying to the question of “Isn’t it that Japan did not make formal apologies toward Asian countries that suffered damage from war?” it now says that it was made clear in the prime minister’s statement of Aug. 14, 2015, that the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apologies that have been consistently maintained by successive governments as expressed by the Murayama and Koizumi statements will be faithfully inherited.

But the problem is that in neither the statement delivered by Abe nor the Foreign Ministry’s website, one cannot find commitments or remarks made in the first person by Abe. This is in stark contrast to the statements by Murayama and Koizumi, who expressed their “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” in the first person.

With regard to Abe’s statement, Shinichi Kitaoka, who served as acting chairman of Abe’s private advisory panel on the content of the statement to be issued for the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, said, “I wish that he had said, using the first person ‘I,’ that Japan carried out aggression and that this must not be repeated.”

Of the four key phrases Murayama and Koiziumi used in their statements, “aggression” and “colonial rule” found their way into two of Abe’s sentences: “Incident, aggression, war — we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes” and “We shall abandon colonial rule forever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world,” according to the English translation carried by the website of the prime minister’s office. But the original Japanese sentences contain no subjects. Thus it is unclear whether “we” in the English translation refers to Japan or whether the sentences are general statements of truisms.

Abe’s statement says, “The Russo-Japanese War gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa.” This sentence derives from a proposal made by the advisory panel of experts. However, another sentence proposed by the panel — “The independence of (Western) colonies in Asia was promoted as a result. But it is not correct to assert that Japan fought for the liberation of Asia as its national policy” — was not incorporated in Abe’s statement. Therefore, it must be pointed out that Abe selected self-serving parts of the panel’s advice.

I find other inconsistencies elsewhere as well. The Abe statement mentions reconciliation with Western prisoners of war. But apparently due to deep resentment over the fact that ex-POWs from the United States took Japanese corporations to court in pursuit of apologies and compensation for their wartime forced labor, the Japanese government, while inviting former POWs from Britain, the Netherlands and Australia to Japan, excluded former U.S. POWs for many years. It wasn’t until 2009, 64 years after the end of the war, that the government started inviting former POWs from the U.S. — thanks to efforts by a federation of nonpartisan members of the Diet, which included myself, and support from citizens’ groups.

The address by Emperor Akihito on the occasion of the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead on Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, stands in marked contrast to Abe’s statement. For the first time in his memorial day address, the Emperor used the phrase “bearing in mind the feelings of profound remorse about the last war.”

This was a deeply meaningful message following similar sentiments he expressed during his visit to China in 1992 and at a banquet at the Imperial Palace when South Korean President Kim Young-sam visited Japan in 1994.

Also, the Emperor used the phrase: “the ceaseless efforts made by the people of Japan toward recovery from the devastation of the war and toward development, backed by their earnest desire for the continuation of peace.” I believe that he has underlined the feelings of the Japanese people, who hope that their country will continue to uphold its resolve never to engage in war again.

The Emperor’s address in effect reemphasized the words and actions of Emperor Hirohito and himself to console the souls of those who died in war by visiting Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Okinawa, Saipan and Palau’s Peleliu Island during the 50th, 60th and 70th anniversary years of the war’s end.

From the context, the subject of all the sentences in the Emperor’s Japanese message cannot be other than “I” and the English translation by the Imperial Household Agency uses “I.” It is clear that they represent the feelings of the Emperor himself.

Commenting on Abe’s statement, the French newspaper Le Monde said “It placed weight not on true remorse but on superficial pacifism.” The New York Times, referring to the Emperor’s address, said “It will strengthen the view that it represents a quiet opposition to Prime Minister Abe’s policy.” Kent E. Calder, a former U.S. diplomat and current director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at SAIS/Johns Hopkins University in Washington, raised the question: “If the diplomatic calculations of the prime minister’s office are proving astute in the short run, what are the longer-term implications of Abe’s historical grammar: a stance full of verbs and objects, but absent sentence subjects and any clear assumption of responsibility?”

The Emperor’s address, which is full of sincerity in consoling the spirits of those who died in war and mourning the loss of lives, “deeply touched my heart,” said a bereaved family member who attended the memorial ceremony.

If Abe wants his statement to win trust from within and outside the country, he should make the subjects of his sentences and Japan’s responsibility for the colonial rule and aggression clear. He should demonstrate through both word and action that his administration’s position on war-related issues is consistent with the position taken by preceding governments.

In his statement, Abe said: “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come … be predestined to apologize.” Yet as long as it is made unclear who is issuing the apology and who exactly were responsible for the aggression and colonial rule, it should be taken that the prime minister has no intention of apologizing. As long as there are discrepancies between words that sound fine on the surface and concrete actions, it will be the people of the coming generations who will be forced to pay the consequences.

Only by trying to solve the remaining war-related issues and trying to reach a “complete and final resolution” as written in various treaties such as the Japan-South Korea agreement on the right of claims, can we liberate the children of coming generations from the fate of having to apologize again and again.

The government should initiate measures to provide support to former POWs and “comfort women,” overseas atomic bomb victims — who are mostly Koreans — and orphans left abroad after the war and their foster parents, and also to Japanese soldiers who were interned in Siberia after World War II as well as former Class-B and -C war criminals.

We should seek not only legal solutions but also moral and political solutions, and solutions that help soothe victims’ sentiment. It is high time that the government and people worked hand in hand to bring about reconciliations with the peoples of other nations.

Yukihisa Fujita, a former senior vice finance minister, is a Democratic Party of Japan member of the Upper House.

  • Liars N. Fools

    The Emperor is too dignified and too honest to sink to the demagoguery of Abe Shinzo and his ilk. So, this “contest” between the Emperor and PM will not play out on the open stage. But it is clear where the Emperor stands. Where will the Japanese people stand?

  • Richard Solomon

    This is the first time I have read of a Japanese politician who recognizes the need for ‘moral and political solutions’ to the unresolved issues related to Japan’s misdeeds during WW II. KUDOS to him for recognizing that actions need to be consistent with words if reconciliation is to take place. It is heartening that he suggests giving ‘support to’ former POW’s, comfort women, etc. He does not mention it but this should include financial reparations to these victims. It should also include memorial services and buildings erected in their honor. Does he have the moral courage to suggest this in the floor of the Diet? It will never be approved in today’s Diet but it would be heartening if he brought it up.i

    • Liars N. Fools

      That politician also belongs to a completely inept opposition party which sadly was also a completely inept ruling party.

      • Firas Kraïem

        How exactly was the DPJ an “inept ruling party”? Yes, I know they mostly didn’t deliver on their campaign promises, but no party anywhere ever does, so that’s a truism.

      • Hendrix

        The way the DJP handled Fukushima was criminal (also the LDP are even worse though)

      • skattan

        What the heck were the DJP supposed to do? The DJP inherited a complete cluster from the LDP: An inadequate emergency response plan, regulators in bed with the regulated, politicians taking money from the power companies. It was the LDP that got the whole nuclear ball rolling in Japan and let the power companies build wherever they wanted, even at risk to the population.

      • Hendrix

        yes good point, although the DJP could have been more honest and kept people informed about the fallout rather than lying their asses off, also the way the local kids were forced to eat school lunches based on local produce etc etc.. a big scandal that still hasnt been resolved..

      • zer0_0zor0

        Noda was a finance sector tool, intent on serving the interest of the “investor class”, primarily Wall St., and the resulting rise in the yen opened the door for the LDP to approach the economy from a patriotic angle–they didn’t even have to be nationalistic in that instance–and that was extremely, and inexcusably inept..

  • ishyg

    It’s not like every generation has to commit seppuku in order to atone for the sins of the past. Heck, the current generation is not even procreating. Can anyone explain in easy terms why it’s hard for the Japanese to admit their transgressions and to educate their people about that dark part of their history?

    • Hendrix

      Because they are delusional, stubbornly ignorant, nationalist in the extreme and have been brainwashed by the school system and media…hope that explains it.

      • SeductiveTissueBox

        On what basis is your opinion founded on? Likewise, you could say the exact same above for every nation. Just because the P.M of a Japan is shown to cultivate nationalism? The country is constructed as a democratic constitutional-monarchy and hence, no values of dissolution towards public opinion should be accounted for. This may be your own speculation but it is a prejudiced, and biased viewpoint of Japanese nationality. I presumed that we all know our facts, such as all media internationally as being deceitful. Compositions of text content should be assiduously appraised in the case of being contemplated by others as transgressive material.

      • Hendrix

        Japan is a democracy? dont make me laugh…. its an authoritarian kleptocracy….
        Japan is deluded and ignorant of their history, how else can you explain why a country believes they were just “protecting” themselves and America “forced” them into a war? or how else can you explain their consistent denial of Nanking? …its ignorance and hyper nationalism that has been instilled into them from the top down using the media, sanitised history textbooks and general immaturity to own up to the facts… wake up

      • I’m a fully indoctrinated American, and even I know the U.S. wanted Asia for itself and saw Imperial Japan as an obstacle to U.S. hegemony. And yes, we declared economic warfare on Japan. As awful as were the actions of Imperial Japan, it was typical behavior for imperial powers.

        Now you want to see denial, talk to a Brit about the British Empire. They still think it was beautiful.

      • Hendrix

        you are talking out of a place where the sun dont shine, if you get my meaning… plenty of British people know what happened in their history and of the sins of empire and are more than willing to face up to that, unlike japan

      • I’m a fully indoctrinated American, and even I know the U.S. wanted Asia for itself and saw Imperial Japan as an obstacle to U.S. hegemony. And yes, we declared economic warfare on Japan. As awful as were the actions of Imperial Japan, it was typical behavior for imperial powers.

        Now you want to see denial, talk to a Brit about the British Empire. They still think it was beautiful.

      • SeductiveTissueBox

        Sorry, I’m afraid you have the wrong idea of my comment. Yes, Japan is a democracy and I’m sure you’ll understand what a democracy is if you open your eyes up to foreign affairs. I’ll give you a tip – those who actually believe in such things as Democracy or Communism are just short sighted to the reality of this world. Of course, how can everything be fair and square? It’s impossible, right? With all due respect, feel free to call every countries government an “authoritarian kleptocracy” because as you well know it, that’s what every country is run by. There are no exceptions to this rule whatsoever, once you declare another country as so. America, for example, is the only country that was nominated by the U.N. as a terrorist country. This is only a fact, I am not against America in any way, in fact I am currently enjoying the ideas of the Washington model. Also, how can you say that a whole nation’s population and I’m talking in current states, not pre- World War 2 said that they were forced into an attack? That is not true as Japan were the ones to attack Pearl Harbour in the first place. I think you should research more about Japan’s efforts in East Asia. The fact that you say that Japan “denies Nanking” shows that you have no knowledge whatsoever in this area of politics. Japan for years has been apologising and paying millions if not billions of compensation and sorrow money for China and Korea and other affected countries. Those who like you, and the ones that up-voted your comment, clearly states that you have no right to comment if not cast your false accusations in this subject. Because hey, this isn’t a democracy is it? It’s a “authoritatian kleptocracy”! What’s sad about this comment section is that people have no idea that everyone is an individual and that the Japanese are not robots or slaves. If you really think that a Japanese person agrees with the ideas of Shinzo Abe, let alone what some call “nurturing nationalism” they are totally against it. But as I said, there are a few Japanese people who agree and believe that they did nothing wrong in World War 2, that’s just how they think. It’s as if you are saying everyone who lives in America all are nuts in the head and go on killing sprees and rape children. Please become more aware in the fact that every human being is not identical and that we all have different views on politics and daily issues. Other than that, have a good day!

      • Hendrix

        i couldnt even be bothered to read your diatribe… you are delusional and i dont have time for this nonsense.

      • SeductiveTissueBox

        Have fun improving your spelling and fixing that pretentious attitude of yours. Most people tend to graduate school, but I almost forgot you don’t need to be smart to press buttons on a keyboard.

      • Hendrix

        some people are busy and dont have time to spellcheck for grammar nazis like you … piece of advice for you, crawl out of your backside and get out of your ivory tower.

      • tisho

        Cultivating nationalism, and straight up denying ones history, whitewashing it, and intentionally brainwashing kids with revisionist textbooks to make sure everybody is ”on the same page” are two different things. And if the PM was democratically elected, then he ought to represent the wishes of the people, so therefore the people want to deny and whitewash their own history, is that right?

      • TomokoHasegawa

        But the big secret is that Japan’s leaders, while probably elected democratically (I stress: probably), are always members of the upper caste of Japan’s society.
        Japan is as much a caste-based society as it was 150 years ago. They just learned to hide it very well.

      • SeductiveTissueBox

        There are far better examples of cultivating nationalism currently in the world news. Yes, it seems that this is what is happening but then are you saying this apply to countries such as America and other democratic countries too? However you define ‘cultivating nationalism’ will change the view that you have on this. Most of us can understand that allowing a country to attack is not necessarily a good thing for the world, but it does not directly state that it is cultivating nationalism, is it? Most countries in the world have the right to attack outside their homeland, does it mean the whole world is made up of ill-advised leaders who all support nationalism? What is there to be wrong with having proud in one’s country? I am most sure that the Japanese have not forgotten their countries history, nor have the Germans with theirs. There is a difference whether it be subtle or not that links the population with their country. I don’t see why people fight over such trivial matters like this, sure we need to keep a check on the leaders of our countries so that they don’t do something stupid and get us all killed, but, what good will reminiscing on the past’s horrific events bring? Countries such as Japan, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, America, etc. should all reflect back on the past history and do their best to stop it from happening again. There is no point to stick around in the depths of delicate subjects as all it can bring is agitation to both parties views. All I’m saying is that yes, like all countries (allies and axis) powers during World War 2, they have all done horrific things which neither the population or country want to take credit for. It is important for us to understand and accept our history, but there is no need to resort to racism (two comments above this) and false views about a specific race being generalised. You should be aware that every human is unique, and that grouping humans together will always equate to a false identity, as if they were scapegoats like the Jewish during World War 2.

      • ishyg

        I haven’t spoken to a lot of Japanese, but for the few that I’ve talked to (four?), they’re not like that at all. So that explanation doesn’t cut it.

      • tisho

        Do you speak Japanese? If you do, go to the most popular news website in Japan – Yahoo Japan News, and take a look at what kind of news are being reported, look at the sources too, then enter some article, and look at the top comments that often have more than 5K likes. Then go to the second most popular news site – Msn Japan, do the same. Go to any news website and look what kind of news are reported, and look at the comments. The go to the two Q&A websites – chiebukuro and okwave, look at the top ranked questions, look at the answers. Try engaging with few people, see what happens and what reactions you get. Do all that, then come back and tell us if you’re still on the same opinion. If you don’t speak Japanese, don’t bother talking to anyone.

      • ishyg

        Even the most and 2nd most popular news sites are already troubling enough. I don’t “speak” Japanese yet. But I can do a little. I’ll try your suggestion.

        It seems like you’re always on the board for these kinds of topics. Where does your passion come from, if I may ask?

      • tisho

        Well, i feel like it’s not fair that people are fooled by the tatemae image, and have a completely backwards view of Japan. It’s irritating because it’s not true. I wish people would see through the mask, but it’s too difficult for most people. You have to speak Japanese on a very high level, you have to be observant, you have to study their culture by observing, comparing, study some history.. and so on., yet people are completely fooled and their stupidity just perpetuates the myth, it stimulates Japanese people to continue with their delusional beliefs. I think the best way to enjoy Japan would be if you don’t speak the language, and if you are generally naive, not observant person, otherwise it can get pretty hard to endure. There are several old documentaries from around the 80s about Japanese culture, made by American TV. Those are one of the best documentaries about Japan i’ve ever seen, i cannot find similar documentaries nowadays. They explain the Japanese culture so simple and easy to understand, yet so precise and correct. One is called – ”Japan: behind the mask”, it focuses on society, the second one is called ”Japan: behind the miracle”, it focuses on socio-politics, mostly society but also behind the so called economic miracle. I suggest you watch some of them. Personally i would recommend the second one, it’s shorter and very informative. Both can be found on YouTube.

      • ishyg

        Well that’s true. The world view of Japan is based on current pop culture trends, so it’s hard to see beyond the rose-tinted glasses.

        Thanks for your recommendations, I’ll be sure to watch them both.

      • TomokoHasegawa

        Thank you for the documentary recommendations. Both were great.
        I think nowadays they won’t get made anymore because Japan is not an economic threat anymore, and people are already forgetting about Japan, because now China is the most important country in Asia.

      • ishyg

        Even the most and 2nd most popular news sites are already troubling enough. I don’t “speak” Japanese yet. But I can do a little. I’ll try your suggestion.

        It seems like you’re always on the board for these kinds of topics. Where does your passion come from, if I may ask?

      • Hendrix

        obviously not all Japanese are like that but shockingly a great number are, just look online at the rise of the right wing in japan, i mean real nut jobs, there is practically an army of them.. you need to speak to more than 4 Japanese people to see what the deal is..

      • ishyg

        Obviously. The future is bleak then.

      • ishyg

        Obviously. The future is bleak then.

  • ishyg

    It’s not like every generation has to commit seppuku in order to atone for the sins of the past. Heck, the current generation is not even procreating. Can anyone explain in easy terms why it’s hard for the Japanese to admit their transgressions and to educate their people about that dark part of their history?

  • ishyg

    So it’s where the media comes in, right? And we all know how propaganda is spread so yeah.

    Thanks for the points you’ve discussed. It’s disheartening to learn that all this is just a highly politicized move. They could’ve ended years of anguish and sorrow. And it’s not just in China where Japanese atrocities happened. The issue of comfort women is also a matter of discussion in the Philippines. They’re also responsible for the death march.

    How ironic that the country I view as having people who bows either in respect or apology (leading to sometimes hilarious and awkward situations of people continuing to bow) cannot bow their heads in apology to well-documented past atrocities.

  • This is from Abe’s speech to the U.S. Congress. The Prime Minister spoke in English so no translation from Japanese is necessary:

    “Post war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war. Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that. I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard.”

    Here Abe complements his own words, “We started out on our path … Our actions .. We must not avert our eyes”, with references to prior Prime Ministers. This adds the depth of continuity, not deflection or reluctance. The first person plural “Our path … our actions” is more profound than the transitory, egoistic “I … Me, me, me.”

    So Abe didn’t say “I.” In the U.S., the opposition counts the times Obama says “I” in the State of the Union speech, as ‘proof’ that the President has narcissistic personality disorder. You just can’t make some people happy.

    I’m sorry, but this article sounds like someone applying for work as the Prime Minister’s copy editor — and not getting the job.

    “Apparently due to deep resentment …” By ‘apparently’, is the author only speculating? There could be any number of complications in this kind of politics. From Finkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust Industry’, we know that reparations for Holocaust victims are a little mucky, as we expect whenever money is involved, even in just and noble causes.

    Lastly, “steamrolled” is obviously not an objective description.

    Yet another ‘teleprompter’ article. A suspicious tactic that claims that just because the Prime Minister didn’t read our cue cards word-for-word, he’s revising history. The recommendations for specific actions are more convincing than the author’s copy-editing.

  • I’m not buying this idea of widespread denial. I’m struck by the frankness about the war I’ve seen in Japanese people I’ve spoken with. The tactic seems to be to write a script for Abe, and when he doesn’t recite the script word-for-word, then claim that he’s revising history. I don’t see lack of remorse in Abe’s speech to the U.S. Congress.

    But I don’t see how the sovereign of a Great Nation can ever prostrate himself. Speaking of history, modern Japan is ironically not immune to the lessons we learned from The Axis: Abe can’t play Neville Chamberlain to China. And anybody who claims he can, now there is your revisionist!

    • KenjiAd

      I agree that there is no widespread denial of Japanese war crimes. The “denial” is more subtle.

      For example, let’s talk about Nanjing Massacre. First, I think that most Japanese people are simply not interested in the war history. This is not an unimportant point, but quite often ignored in this kind of debate: most people in Japan do not lose sleep over what happened in Nanjing when they weren’t even born.

      Among those who are interested, I think the majority do not deny some sort of “massacre” occurred. What they don’t believe, however, is the detail of it, specifically how many were killed. I think most do not believe the Chinese claim, 300,000 murders. The number generally thrown around in Japan, ranges from a few thousands to 100,000 at max. Even if you take the lowest number, thousands, it’s still a massacre. They don’t deny that.

      What these people are saying is that yes massacre did occur but it wasn’t as bad as China claims. This stance, in turn, infuriates people in China as well as many in the west, because it sounds so evasive.

      • Hendrix

        Yes and no, true there are people who say that China are exaggerating and using it all as a political football, but unfortunately the pendulum has been swinging in the direction of all out denial in recent years, especially now with Abe and his crew running the show… i cant even bring the topic up with Japanese people now as i just know what they are gonna say, denial basically.

  • ishyg

    That sucks big time. Comfort women is a big issue for several countries occupied by Japan during the war times. It could’ve been a breakthrough.

  • ishyg

    That sucks big time. Comfort women is a big issue for several countries occupied by Japan during the war times. It could’ve been a breakthrough.